FINA Committee Meeting
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE
COMITÉ PERMANENT DES FINANCES
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Thursday, October 5, 2000
The Chair (Mr. Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan—King—Aurora, Lib.)): I would like to call the meeting to order and welcome everyone here this morning.
The order of the day, as we all know, is Bill C-213, an act to promote shipbuilding, 1999. We are at clause-by-clause consideration.
Mr. Roy Cullen (Etobicoke North, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Perhaps we can go back in time for a moment. When the bill last came before this committee we had a number of witnesses, and when I put the question at the last meeting of this committee, I was advised by Mr. Loubier that there would be no amendments. I presume that's still the situation.
It's somewhat disappointing if that is the case, because during the consultations with various stakeholder groups, I think Mr. Dubé himself agreed that there were certain flaws in the bill, and perhaps the timing has been such that he hasn't been able to address those particular issues.
For example, there were many technical discussions. In fact, my colleague from Mississauga South—and me, I think, to some extent—highlighted some technical issues with regard to the bill. There are some overarching issues that the member is aware of in the sense of the particular instrument—a tax credit, for instance—and whether that's the most effective instrument in terms of the type of guarantees and the exposure to the government.
I myself would support, in the spirit of both cooperation and the bill's intention—and I know the member from Lévis is very committed to this, as are many of my colleagues on this side of the table—that we do support the bill at this point, but I know I would be looking for amendments at the next stage. If the member goes back to the transcripts, I think he'll see that many technical issues were raised and that the member from Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière agreed that some technical fixes were required.
So certainly I would be looking for that type of amendment at the next stage of the bill, but I personally would encourage colleagues to support the bill at this point. I think the principles and the objectives are well intended, and it's an issue that is very important to many, many Canadians.
That's what I would propose.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Cullen.
After that statement, I think we can proceed to clause-by-clause.
(Clauses 1 to 5 inclusive agreed to)
The Chair: Shall the title carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall I report the bill to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Mr. Yvan Loubier (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, BQ): I would like to move a motion, Mr. Chairman. It is seconded by my colleague, Antoine Dubé, the sponsor of the bill. I think there will be unanimity on the motion, given what Mr. Cullen just said.
I apologize for not having had the time to draft it in English, but I think you are better in that area than I am. The motion reads as follows:
Given the crucial importance of the shipbuilding industry in Quebec
and Canada, and given the interminable wait of workers in this
industry for this bill, I move that the government speed up
procedures on Bill C-213, that it make the bill a priority, and
that it get the bill passed before the federal election is called.
I don't think I will have any trouble getting unanimous support for this motion, particularly given that the government could, before dissolving Parliament, before the election is called, take this private member's bill and make it into a government bill. If there were any amendments, we could debate them. We are prepared to do that. There is no problem. We could pass it quickly, perhaps at the same time as the next mini-budget.
The Chair: Mr. Cullen.
Mr. Roy Cullen: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I'm not sure the motion's in order. I'm not sure of the exact procedures of the committee, but is there notice required or...?
Okay. So ignoring the procedural issues now, which I'm sure the clerk would be more apprised of than I would, I—
Mr. John Herron (Fundy—Royal, PC): Could I ask you to repeat the motion?
The Chair: We're going to take a bit of time here.
I would like to see the motion. Perhaps you can just give it to the clerk so that she can examine it.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: Please give me a second, Mr. Chairman.
If we need to make the motion more flexible, Mr. Cullen, we are very open to that. The committee's role is not to tell the government to speed up the procedure, but to suggest that it pass the bill quickly, before the upcoming elections. It is just a suggestion. That would send a clear message to the government that all members of the Finance Committee consider the bill fundamental. There's no commitment on the part of the government to accept it. We are just telling the government that without any debate on the bill we agreed unanimously on it, and we want the study to be speeded up, so that the bill can be passed before the election is called.
Let us not forget that at the moment, some shipyards have shut down. Yesterday, we were speaking about Saint John Shipbuilding Limited, where 2,000 workers have been laid off. The employees at the Lévis-Lauzon shipyard are also waiting, and it might be good to send a signal to the government.
If you want to move some amendments to the motion, I have no problem with that whatsoever, provided we tell the government that this is important to members of the Finance Committee.
The Chair: Mr. Dubé.
Mr. Antoine Dubé (Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, BQ): I don't want to start a quarrel, but I would like to follow up on Mr. Cullen's remarks.
The so-called technical amendments were put forward by Mr. Szabo, who said at the time that his problem—and this is consistent with the motion put forward by my colleague, Mr. Loubier—was that normally there was a limit on private members' bills. He thought the bill had financial implications, even though it states “up to”, without being any more specific.
Mr. Loubier's motion is ideal. He has moved that the government treat the bill as a priority and proceed with it quickly.
That was Mr. Szabo's only hesitation. Otherwise, there was no problem.
The Chair: Mr. Herron.
Mr. John Herron: I would just like to add that in this particular instance we're clearly in support of this perspective the Bloc is advocating, that the whole, entire intent of a private member's motion or bill that has gone this far is to keep an issue of public policy before the public. I don't think anybody at all on either this side of the House or the other should be territorial in terms of how the yardsticks are moved with respect to this issue of public policy.
The traditional format is for the government to introduce one of its own bills, one of its own kind. I don't think anybody would have a problem on this side of the House if we get a very clear signal from the Government of Canada that this is a priority issue and that financial instruments are required in order to develop a shipbuilding policy. All we're looking for is a clear signal that the coastal communities on both sides of the country will actually see a shipbuilding policy. What we're looking for is as much good faith and some tangible signals.
The Chair: Mr. Cullen.
Mr. Roy Cullen: What I would say is that first of all this is a private member's bill; so when the member from Lévis talks amendments, the amendments would have to come from you. This is not a government bill.
Secondly, there were some technical issues associated with the bill, but the technical issues were not so minor as to require a wording change here and there.
Thirdly, the government at this point in time is seized with a huge legislative program, legislation that's also important to all Canadians. For example, we have legislation to implement the first ministers' accord on the health accord, CHST. We have employment insurance legislation.
I'm not privy to all the legislative programs of the government, but I do know it's a very full agenda. I don't think we could promise anything in terms of the priority the House or the government would attach to this particular private member's bill, which, I should re-emphasize, is a private member's bill. Any amendments would be the responsibility of the private member to see if he could introduce amendments that would have the support of the House.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: With all due respect to Mr. Cullen, Mr. Chairman, I have looked at the government's legislative agenda for the next few days. As you mentioned, some bills are priorities, such as the one on the health agreement and the amendments to employment insurance.
However, that does not amount to a very full legislative agenda. It is a normal amount of work that will be done in the next few days. We were actually surprised, after the house leaders' meeting, to see how little was on the legislative agenda for the next two weeks. My colleagues, Mr. Antoine Dubé and Ms. Pauline Picard, agree that we do not even want the credit for this bill, even though it came from us. Mr. Cullen is not listening to me. We have a problem. Our suggestion is that the bill become a government bill and be presented along with the mini-budget, because the bill does have some financial implications. In this way, I can guarantee that you will have unanimous support in the House for a bill of this type.
I'm sure something could be worked out. For example, if Bill C-38 comes on the agenda, we could make some concessions to speed up the hearings and to reach an agreement on acceptable content, in exchange for the passage of Bill C-213. I think everyone here agrees. We will solve the technical problems. In any case, for the first time in Canada, you are doing something that has the unanimous support of the employers, the employees and the communities living around shipyards. Take advantage of this, it will be helpful to you in the upcoming election!
All I am asking of the Finance Committee, and I think my colleagues will agree, is for a request to speed up our study and to pass the bill as quickly as possible. Thousands of workers are waiting for answers, and we have no right to make them wait because of arguments that are somewhat untrue, such as those advanced by Mr. Cullen.
The Chair: There's no question that this committee has always dealt with this issue as an important one. As a matter of fact, even prior to your bill coming here, we actually supported the challenges that the shipbuilding industry had in our pre-budget consultation report. So it's a new issue vis-à-vis your proposal, but it's an old issue for this committee, because we've dealt with this before.
Mr. John Herron: I just want to reiterate that the government has spent a fair amount of time on this issue as well, so I don't think anybody on the other side of the House is territorial about how this gets done. The issue is that we want to be able to get this issue of public policy passed in rapid order.
I think Mr. Cullen is trying to work here in good faith, but there's nothing that would predicate the government or a member making an amendment even to Antoine's bill. However, the normal course of events is that the Government of Canada would submit its own bill.
There are members within cabinet who have allegedly been working on this particular file. I know you will not have any trouble getting this passed in the Senate, from our perspective as well. That will not be a slowdown at all. So what we're looking for is to address the intention that an unprecedented coalition is behind this. All ten premiers are advocating the exact same mechanisms. Labour, shipowners, shipbuilders are onside. We have a coalition of at least three opposition parties that are supportive of doing something, and we wouldn't have come this far without a good number of spirited Liberals who actually supported the bill so it could get to here. So all we're looking for is a signal from the government about when they want to get this done.
I know there is a legislative agenda out there, but we are likely heading into the course of an election. That's why we want to get this thing done, so this effort doesn't fall by the wayside. Some very important bills are going to fall right now.
The Chair: Are you sure about that?
Mr. John Herron: I use the word “likely”.
The Chair: I wouldn't be so sure.
Mr. John Herron: The point is that other bills are probably going to fall by the wayside as well. Your species-at-risk bill doesn't have any House time at all either.
This bill affects thousands of maritime workers in coastal communities, so we're looking for a clear signal.
The Chair: Mr. Herron, in fairness to Mr. Cullen, we've really operated in great spirit here on this particular bill. There's a lot of cooperation. The fact that Mr. Cullen and members on the Liberal side would even let the bill go through as is, basically, and not give you the time to even do the amendments and wait for the House, is quite something. I haven't seen it very often in my 12 years here. So this cooperation shows good spirit.
Mr. John Herron: I do agree.
The Chair: It's just a question of how far we want to go with this motion. I personally think that the fact that we dealt with this thing as quickly as we did certainly should signal to the people and the House leadership that it's an important issue for us. I think if I were the House leader I would say: Look at the way they dealt with it; this must be in fact an important issue.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: Mr. Chairman, I would like to suggest a compromise which I think might be supported by my colleagues. What we are after here is to have the government hear the alarm sounded by the Finance Committee. We have analyzed the bill and agreed that it was very important and had significant economic and social implications from the east coast to the west coast of Canada. People are waiting for this bill in British Columbia, in the Maritimes, in Quebec, and almost everywhere else.
We could just say this: “The Finance Committee thinks the bill is crucial to the future of shipyards in Canada and asks the government to speed up its passage.” Whether or not it recommends amendments, that is no problem. If we were to say that, without mentioning the election, we would be sending a clear message that the committee members unanimously agree that this bill is a priority. Could you agree to such a wording? Let us not talk about an election or any other thing. The role of the Finance Committee is to advise the government on legislation. If we were to report and simply urge the government to hasten the passage of this bill because the Finance Committee thinks it is crucial, that would be most satisfactory to us.
Mr. Roy Cullen: Mr. Chairman, as you rightly pointed out, you have expedited consideration of this bill. When it came before the committee the last time Mr. Dubé acknowledged that there were technical flaws with the bill, and I'm not talking about just a word here and there. There were some significant technical flaws. I was surprised that Mr. Dubé himself hadn't introduced amendments.
We have shown incredible cooperation by saying that in the spirit, the principles, and the objectives of the bill, this side would support the bill, even though it is flawed, in our view.
As I said, I can't speak on behalf of the government. If the government would want to introduce a bill, I suppose they have the right to do that. But in the scheme of things, there are so many pressing priorities for all Canadians that this bill hasn't even been contemplated by the government, because it's a private member's bill.
Mr. Chairman, I think you've shown a lot of patience and a lot of goodwill, and this side has shown a lot of goodwill. We're prepared to let it go to the next stage, and if the opposition has amendments to introduce, they'll be considered by the full House at that time. As far as the legislative program, there's a procedure for private members' bills. Once it's reported to the House, it goes its normal course. As I say, the intention of the government is not for this to become a government bill. It's a private member's bill.
So I think we've shown a lot of goodwill. I would hope we could put the question fairly soon.
Mr. Antoine Dubé: I feel uncomfortable with that. I acknowledge that there's a good atmosphere of co-operation, and that we have seen this in the past as well for other bills. I remember, as I am sure you do, Mr. Cullen, that I myself was co- operative in the case of one of your initiatives. We are open to co-operation. And I am not speaking against that.
However, I cannot accept a comment to the effect that I acknowledged that there were technical problems, and that I made a commitment during the summer to bring forward amendments. The fact is that the questions were raised by Mr. Szabo. I asked that he clarify his views. The bill was in committee in June, and you will recall, sir, that you were replaced by someone else at the last meeting. We were told that over the summer, officials from the department would hold consultations and identify problems with the bill. Personally, I never made a commitment to come forward with amendments on technical details, which in fact have still not been specified. I went about drafting this bill seriously, and based my work on measures that had been agreed upon by management and unions, and even shipowners. These technical considerations have no impact on the content of the bill, and I do not want anyone to tell me that I acknowledged certain problems or that I made a commitment to bring forward amendments, as has been suggested here this morning.
The Chair: Mr. Loubier.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: I think we have said what we had to say, Mr. Chairman. I am going to make a proposal. It is just a suggestion that is not binding on the government. As you know, we all often make suggestions to the government, some of which it accepts, and some of which it rejects.
I think it is essential that the Finance Committee say that it considers shipbuilding important for the future of shipyards in Canada, for the future of thousands of workers in this sector, and for the many regions that depend on the spinoff from shipyards in Canada.
My proposal does not force the government to do anything. If you think it does, I wonder what we are doing as a committee, and whether we can no longer make any suggestions whatsoever to the government. I will read you this motion that is less binding than the previous one, and which I don't think you should have any trouble passing. All we want to do is further emphasize our desire to pass reasonable measures for the future of shipyards. My motion reads as follows:
That given the crucial importance of this bill for the future of
shipyards in Canada and for the thousands of workers in this industry,
the Finance Committee suggests that the government speed up the
passage of the bill.
While the proposal is not binding, it does send a signal to the government. I see no reason why Mr. Cullen would reject it. In any case, Mr. Cullen is a member of the committee like any other. I hope that the other members of the committee are also entitled to their opinions, that we will not simply rely on the opinion of the Finance Minister, as expressed by Mr. Cullen, and that we will not accept that opinion.
The Chair: Mr. Cullen.
Mr. Roy Cullen: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I think if one read the transcript from the last meeting of this committee dealing with this bill, Mr. Dubé acknowledged that there were some flaws with the bill, and he presumably would have taken the time to consult. If my colleague from Mississauga South had some particular concerns, and there were other concerns as well, it would be his responsibility to consult and introduce amendments to the bill.
I think the government has shown a lot of support and encouragement and cooperation by fast-tracking consideration of this bill, by proposing that we pass this bill at the committee stage, even though the bill is flawed. I would propose, Mr. Chairman, that we really can't go beyond that.
The Chair: Yes, go ahead, Ms. Guarnieri.
Ms. Albina Guarnieri (Mississauga East, Lib.): Without getting into the merits of the bill and the level of support for the bill, I'd like to seek some guidance from the clerk. Do we have it within our authority to actually mandate the House to interfere with the sequence of events when it comes to private members' business? My understanding is that there's a sequence of events and there's a list where it's done in the order in which the private members' business was tabled. Is that the case? Do we have it within our authority?
The Clerk of the Committee: The committee can make any recommendation it wants to the House by way of a report. A report would then become like any other committee report and would require concurrence in that process.
With regard to private members' business, there is a procedure. This bill would go to the bottom. In order to change that procedure, there would have to be consent of the people concerned.
Mr. Roy Cullen: Of the House?
The Clerk: That's right. If you're going to set aside a standing order, you require the consent of the House.
The Chair: Mr. Loubier.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: The clerk is correct. There is no problem with this, except that the government could take a private member's bill and make it into a government bill and pass it quickly to the other stages.
Mr. Cullen's arguments do not hold water, Mr. Chairman. The arguments about the need for amendments do not stand up. Let us assume that at some point in the course of our study we realize that amendments are needed. We have had enough representations from employers, employees and people who know a great deal about shipyards and taxation, to quickly draft some minor amendments to the bill if the government feels this is necessary. The bill could be passed at all stages within a few days, even within a few hours, because we have all the material we require.
Our only request is to recommend that the government speed up the procedures. If the government needs technical amendments to the bill to pass it, I would like to assure you that we and the Conservative Party will roll up our sleeves and get down to work. We will find the darn technical amendments required, and we will get this bill passed to everyone's satisfaction. I think it could be done. It is not the end of the world.
I do not know what you have against this bill, Mr. Cullen, but I find it quite incredible. Every time we talk about it, you have some reservations. You go to great lengths to look for reasons that have no... I do not understand.
The Chair: I would think that all the points that are going to be made on this particular issue have been made. Is that correct? Do you want to go further or elaborate? Do we want to go to a vote on this?
I hope it doesn't end up this way, because we've cooperated extensively on this particular bill. We've fast-tracked it, as Mr. Cullen correctly pointed out. I'm always under the impression.... Maybe it's the fact that we're a little bit finance-committee-centric; we think that things that come out of our committee are always important. All the things we deal with are in fact important by their very nature. Shipbuilding is important; pre-budget consultation is important; Bill C-38 is also important, and so many other things we have to deal with.
In all my years here, I have never seen a report come after a clause-by-clause like that. I'm just wondering how important this particular.... We have to issue a report, by the way, on this particular motion—if the motion gets approved, of course.
Have we debated this issue long enough, do you think? Can we go to a vote or not? What do you think?
Mr. Antoine Dubé: This will be my final comment, Mr. Chairman.
That is all very well, but if we vote against my colleague's motion, that means that all this fine atmosphere of co-operation has gone out the window. I could accept that, but at the same time, if an election were to be held this fall, the bill would die on the Order Paper. What is the point of co-operating?
The Chair: If you're concerned about that, you can withdraw the motion. Then you don't have that problem.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: Could we have a recorded vote on this motion, Madam Clerk? Personally, I am ready to vote.
Mr. John Herron: I have only one question. Why would a report have to be generated for this motion? The essence of the motion is to have the House leaders get together and make it a priority motion. Why would we need to generate a report to actually do that? I don't get it.
The Chair: Apparently, we can only speak to the House by way of a report.
Mr. John Herron: However, the committee can actually pass a motion of goodwill on this particular issue. We've done this in my other committee on environment—there are numerous examples—that the finance committee calls on the Government of Canada to get the House leaders together to put this on the top of the Order Paper.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: But it must be included in the report.
Mr. John Herron: It has to be done in a report—
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. John Herron: —to do it formally. However, if a motion were passed by the committee as to what the will of the committee was and it was brought to the attention of the government, it still would be able to be.... I don't see why we should get bogged down in the onerous details of having to produce a report.
The Chair: Ms. Guarnieri, followed by Mr. Pillitteri.
Ms. Albina Guarnieri: Perhaps the clerk can give us some guidance on this. It's my understanding, when it comes to private members' business, that you would need the consent of those who precede you on the list. There's a sequence of order for private members' business, so you would have to get the approval of the members who are above you on the list.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: But it's not a problem, because the government could decide to take this bill, this private bill, and transform it into a government bill. It's not a problem.
A recorded vote on the motion has been requested.
The Chair: I want to go to Mr. Pillitteri to make a comment.
Mr. Gary Pillitteri (Niagara Falls, Lib.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to know.... In cooperation, I understand that.... Yes, I would go along in supporting this bill. But having sat here through the committee hearings a lot of times.... Yes, they were supposed to have brought in some amendments the last time we were in committee, and I feel somewhat pressed now. I'm sorry to say it, but this is almost becoming a political football, because all of a sudden they're feeling there's going to be an election and they bring in their people to say how much they have done for us. And certainly I feel that.... Yes, there's also some shipbuilding—
A voice: Order.
Mr. Gary Pillitteri: Wait a minute, wait a minute; I want to have my say.
There's also some shipbuilding in other parts of the country, not only in the west, not only in the east, but also within central Canada. I happen to have one very close to my riding. And making this a political football this late in the game, I feel somewhat pressed into this and saying here's this individual, then I'll go along with it. Certainly the amendments should be brought in. And I think that—
Ms. Albina Guarnieri: Can we not vote on it?
The Chair: Just one second.
Mr. Gary Pillitteri: Mr. Chairman, I feel I'm forced to vote against something I don't really want to.
The Chair: But in fairness, we all around this table know that this particular issue was dealt with by the finance committee well before the honourable member's private member's bill. So it's not an issue that is going to, I guess, acquire political ramifications, because everybody knows that we're very supportive of it. But the point we have to deal with is are we going to go ahead with this report, or do we have to further...?
Do we have any amendments to the motion by anybody? No? Okay.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: Could you please repeat the wording of the motion so that it is clear and everyone understands the same thing?
That, given the vital importance of this Bill for the future of
shipyards in Canada and the thousands of people working in this
sector, the Finance Committee suggest to the government that it
accelerate the legislative stages of this Bill.
Mr. Yvan Loubier: Very good.
(The motion is negatived: yeas, 4; neas, 6)
Mr. John Herron: What I wanted to add to that is that if Mr. Pillitteri feels depressed, I understand where he is coming from. I had a private member's motion that essentially had the exact same element in it in October of 1997. We've had five private members' bills that have had essentially the same elements in them, and that's why we feel so much energy has gone to waste, sir.
The Chair: The meeting is adjourned. We'll be back at 11 o'clock.